Tribeca Film

Interview: Alex Karpovksy on Red Flag and Rubberneck

One of the themes linking Red Flag and Rubberneck concerns the lies we tell ourselves and each other.

I think there’s a whole constellation of deceptions that we nurture everyday, just to get through the day—just through our lives without having existential breakdowns. And I think most of those things are effects of the way we deal with a death anxiety. I have a fear of death, I think a lot of people do, and I think for most people it’s buried deep in their subconscious, because it has to be. Because the thought that we’re going to die, pretty soon, and that there’s probably nothing afterward, can be a very crippling and anxiety-producing notion. And so we have our different self-deception mechanisms to ease that anxiety, and be a functional human being. One of the devices in that constellation, one of the deceptions, is something that makes us believe that we’re going to live forever, and that death isn’t imminent, or permanent, which, of course, it is. And sometimes, that immortality deception mechanism can break down, and I believe that’s when epiphanies can happen. So, the underlying fear of death, I often think, is the root of secondary fears, like commitment phobia. Regarding my character in Red Flag, it remains to be seen whether he, with all of his problems and insecurities, can deal with his epiphany moment in a healthy way or in a way that’s counterproductive. And I want to leave it to the viewer to see how that question will be fully answered.

And both Red Flag and Rubberneck feature a needy character who pines for a lover who won’t reciprocate, with you getting to act on both sides of the equation in the respective films. What drew you to that dynamic?

I don’t know if I can answer that. [laughs] The easy answer, and there’s a lot of truth to this, is that in life experience I have been on both sides of that equation and there’s a lot of texture there. There’s a lot of insight that fosters interpersonal psyche, and how [the rejected lovers] deal with this pain, and if they’re able to move on or if they get stuck in a very dangerous and destructive sabotage campaign. I’m very interested in character-driven stories of very troubled, conflicted minds, and I find that obsession, specifically one-sided obsession, is a very nice theme to explore in these types of stories.

I don’t want to pigeonhole you, but you’re part of a burgeoning group of seriocomic talents whose tone and content reads as sort of a product of our post-mumblecore, post-Apatow-heyday world. And yet, in Red Flag, there’s a very strong Woody Allen vibe, suggesting there are much more classic influences at work here. Can you discuss where you feel you fit in all of this? Perhaps I’m off base?

I don’t know if I fit anywhere there, to be honest. There’s such a wide spectrum, and it goes back to my metaphor of constellations. The stars in this constellation—Judd Apatow, the word “mumblercore”—I feel like there are so many light years between these things that I don’t know how to make sense of all of it. It’s all so very different. I love all of those things that you mentioned. I don’t understand the notion of post-Apatow, because I think he’s still very much doing extremely interesting work and I loved his last film. He’s definitely been a huge influence on me, telling stories that are once really funny and also having a lot of dramatic resonance. I’m a big fan of his comedic influences, too, which I understand include Hal Ashby. Woody Allen is also a huge influence for me, especially older Woody Allen. I mean, any writer, director, and actor who plays self-deprecating versions of [himself]; I’m almost always a fan. That’s certainly the case with early Woody Allen, and what Larry David has done with Curb Your Enthusiasm. I love all that stuff. Those are all influences.

You also star on Girls, of course, and you clearly have a kinship with Lena Dunham as someone at least somewhat representative of the millennial generation, a group that’s often identified as one with a lot of people who are educated, but don’t necessarily have the means, will, or funds to channel their potential. There’s been some coverage of a possible hazard of someone like you, or Lena, gaining a lot of success—as if you can’t remain a voice of a struggling generation if you continue to do well for yourself. What do you think about that?

That’s seems like more of a question for Lena than for me. I feel like her work is always really honest and unaffected, and I don’t think she’s going to have any problem continuing to entertain her audience. As for me, the notion of losing any audience or fans that I think I have from working on different scales is kind of preposterous. I mean, I think we’re talking about 200 to 300 people [laughs], on the whole planet. It seems silly for me to even think of it that way. For Lena, of course, you can definitely say, you know, a million people watch her show every week, and Tiny Furniture is part of the Criterion Collection, and people can definitely try to assess how she may or may not be drifting from an indie, $20,000 movie to this grander scale of new-found fame. I mean, people can debate that, and have a legitimate discussion because of her stature, but the thought of that same thing in regard to me is comical.

There’s a running gag, or, perhaps motif, in Red Flag about no late checkouts, a rule that infuriates your character while he stays in hotels. Do you often feel like your scrambling for more time?

[laughs] No. I never thought of it that way. I’m glad that it could play that way for some people, but I can’t take credit for it. The idea was to playfully put out a litmus test of how much kindness is pulsing in the world around this person in this moment. [Asking for later checkout times] is his way of seeing if there’s any wind of generosity blowing around him. And the answer for him is always no, and he keeps asking with more and more desperation. The harder he tries to get what he wants, the less likely it is to happen. But it was never about him wanting more time. As for myself, I don’t feel like I’m scrambling for more time. I feel like there’s enough time in the day, and I don’t feel like I’m wasting it. Except, it’s kind of like that when we’re promoting movies or promoting releases. But they’re only spells—a few weeks here and there and then it’s months of isolation and loneliness. [laughs] And then you come out of your cave to promote another film.

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